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Underage Truckers to Hit the Road as FMCSA Pilot Program Gets Underway

Texas 18-Wheeler Accident | FMCSA Underage Trucker Program Opens

Underage 18-wheeler drivers could soon take to an interstate near you.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is now accepting applications for a pilot apprentice program that allows commercial truck drivers younger than 21 to operate across state lines.

While advocates for the program maintain that it will help alleviate a severe shortage of truck drivers that has strangled the nation’s supply change, critics worry that the arrival of these inexperienced truck drivers will only lead to yet another uptick in serious and fatal 18-wheeler crashes.

How the FMCSA Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program Will Work

The Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program was established last November when President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. It will accommodate up to 3,000 apprentices between 18 and 21 and operate for a maximum of three years.

Forty-nine states and Washington D.C. already allow 18- to 20-year-olds to obtain commercial driver’s licenses, but those drivers can operate only within state lines.

Participants in the pilot apprenticeship program must complete at least 400 hours of on-duty time and 240 hours of driving time accompanied by an experienced commercial driver. The supervising driver can’t be younger than 26, must have held a CDL for at least two years, must have driven a commercial vehicle for at least five years in interstate commerce, and must not have had any “preventable accidents” or pointed moving violations.

The apprentice driver may only operate commercial vehicles equipped with an automatic or automatic manual transmission, an active braking collision mitigation system, a forward-facing video event capture system, and a governed speed of 65 mph – either at the pedal or via adaptive cruise control.

Once an underage apprentice has put in their 240 supervised hours, they’ll be free to drive an 18-wheeler or any other commercial vehicle on any cross-state route in the country.

Data Suggest Younger Truck Drivers More Likely to Crash

“The question that this pilot program speaks to, of course, is: Is there a way to engage younger drivers without any kind of detriment to safety?” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asked last month during a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “And I think that a pilot program has provided us with a responsible way to determine that.”

Buttigieg pledged the Department of Transportation will be “watching closely, of course, to see how it unfolds and then ultimately gather the data that’ll tell us what, if any, safety impact there is.”

Unfortunately, safety advocates fear that an adverse impact is inevitable.

As recently as 2019, the Congressional Research Service studied proposals for lowering the minimum truck driving age to 18, ultimately concluding that “young commercial drivers, like young drivers overall, are much more likely to be involved in crashes than their older counterparts,”

An earlier meta-analysis of commercial driver safety studies found that crash risk increases with younger drivers, then falls as they get older and begins to rise again once they reach age 65.

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